Meaning non-verbally: the neglected corners of the bi-dimensional continuum communication in people with aphasia

Caroline Jagoe, Tim Wharton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The potential for pragmatic insights to be enriched, and even generated, from investigation of people with communication disabilities has been vastly underutilised in theoretical pragmatics. An adequate pragmatic theory must account for the full range of human communication, including that of people with communication disabilities. A similar argument has been made regarding pragmatic explanations of the natural non-verbal behaviours accompanying speech, which has lagged behind exploration of non-natural linguistic meaning. These two domains – pragmatic research into the meaning of non-verbal behaviours and clinical research into the communicative strategies of people with aphasia (the communication disability that commonly follows a stroke) – have the potential to inform each other. This paper builds on the idea that a relevance-theoretic ostensive stimulus is typically a complex of linguistic elements, which usually convey propositional information, and non-verbal behaviours, which carry emotional or attitudinal information that supplement the verbal content. Many people with aphasia, however, rely much more heavily on the use of non-verbal behaviours. What do these convey? How can what is conveyed best be described and explained? This paper will use the ‘bi-dimensional continuum’ in which meaning and showing are plotted against determinate and indeterminate intended import (Sperber and Wilson 2015, p. 147) to demonstrate the complexity of non-verbal communication in dyads where one partner has aphasia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-30
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC
BY license (


  • Gesture
  • Relevance Theory
  • indeterminacy
  • aphasia
  • Aphasia
  • Relevance theory
  • Indeterminacy
  • Communication


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